Is African American History Hyphenated?

The term “African American” has been widely used to describe Black Americans in the United States. However, there has been a long-standing debate over whether or not the term should be hyphenated. Some argue that the hyphen is necessary to accurately reflect the complex identity of Black Americans, while others believe that it creates unnecessary division and should be dropped altogether.

What is a Hyphen

Before we delve into the controversy surrounding “African American,” let’s first define what a hyphen is. A hyphen is a punctuation mark (-) used to join words together to create a compound word. It can also be used to separate syllables or clarify meaning.

  • Compound word example: self-esteem
  • Syllable separation example: re-enter
  • Clarification example: small-business owner vs. small business owner

The History of “African American”

The term “African American” emerged in the late 1980s as a more culturally sensitive alternative to “Black.” Before this, terms such as “Negro,” “Colored,” and even more derogatory terms were commonly used. The change in terminology was meant to acknowledge the African roots of Black Americans and recognize their unique cultural identity.

Initially, the term was written with a hyphen – “African-American.” This was done to distinguish it from other compound words like “African safari” where “African” modifies “safari.” However, some argued that this created an unnecessary division between African and American identities and pushed for dropping the hyphen altogether.

The Case for Hyphenation

Those who argue for keeping the hyphen believe that it accurately reflects the complex identity of Black Americans who are both African and American. They argue that dropping the hyphen erases the African heritage of Black Americans and reduces them to just Americans.

Additionally, some argue that the hyphen is necessary to distinguish between people of African descent in America and those on the African continent. Without the hyphen, “African American” could refer to anyone of African descent living anywhere in the world.

The Case Against Hyphenation

On the other hand, those who advocate for dropping the hyphen argue that it creates an unnecessary division between African and American identities. They believe that Black Americans are already fully American and do not need a qualifier to prove their Americanness.

Additionally, some argue that by dropping the hyphen, we can move towards a more inclusive society where we don’t focus on race or ethnicity as defining characteristics. They believe that our differences should be celebrated, but not used to create division.


So, is African American history hyphenated The answer is – it depends on who you ask.

There are valid arguments on both sides of this debate. Ultimately, whether or not you choose to use a hyphen when referring to Black Americans is a personal preference.

As a writer, it’s important to be aware of this debate and make an informed decision about how you choose to write about this community. Remember, language plays a powerful role in shaping our perceptions and attitudes towards others. By using language that accurately reflects diversity and inclusivity, we can create a more equitable society for all.